Aaron Pointer breaks barriers and earns his place in history

Park Board President Aaron Pointer is no stranger to the limelight.

The former major league baseball player, NFL referee, and brother to Grammy-winning siblings The Pointer Sisters holds a significant sports record that has remained intact for nearly 60 years.

Despite all his touches with fame, Pointer shared that he was genuinely surprised when the Tacoma branch of the NAACP announced recently that it was awarding him the Harold G. Moss Decades Award. Created and named to honor the legacy of the first black mayor to serve Tacoma, the award recognizes those who, like Mayor Moss, have made an impact on this community. It’s hard to imagine the man who has devoted the past 19 years serving passionately on the Metro Parks Board of Commissioners would have been so taken aback by the honor especially when you learn more about his life experiences before his time on the board.

Aaron Pointer Park CommissionerIn 1961, Aaron Pointer became the last professional baseball player in the United States to hit .400 for the season. The story behind his famed record was chronicled this summer by Sports Illustrated. The article illuminates unconscionable injustices confronting him on a daily basis while earning his record. As the only black player on an all-white team in the South in the 1960s, Pointer had firsthand experiences with blatant discrimination. Segregated hotels, restaurants and restrooms were the norm as the team traveled from game to game. Reading about his experiences provide an even greater appreciation for his commitment to fairness and access for all in his role as a park commissioner.

Born and raised in California, Pointer recalls that his foundation as an athlete began forming in kindergarten where he learned kickball. That school yard game laid an early foundation for his professional career in baseball — a sport built principally on the same rules. Pointer fondly recalls the public park across the street from his home as the place where his love for sports was born. He spent time there almost daily on the fields and in the community center where he began swimming competitively.

“That’s why I’m so in favor of parks,” Pointer shared as he reminisced. “I think all the time about what that park did for me and the kids in my neighborhood. That’s why providing opportunities for kids has always been my highest priority on the Park Board.”

He also values the synergy between Metro Parks and organizations like the Boys & Girls Club. Pointer credits the club for playing an important role in his development during his youth and he has a 1950 Ping Pong Championship trophy to prove it.

“I loved all kinds of sports,” Pointer said. “Athletics provide so many benefits – obviously health and fitness, but also teamwork and an understanding of how to improve your own skills in a way that contributes to the greater good.”

It was basketball that opened the door for a college scholarship at the University of San Francisco before he made his way to pro baseball. The career that took him through the experiences of the South also provided an opportunity to live abroad in Japan. While he personally enjoyed the celebrity of being a major league player his eyes were again opened to the inequality around him. This time in the form of gender discrimination. He said he would go to the grocery store to shop for the family while his wife Leona was home with their children. Women around him would carry on conversations about how odd it was for a man to be shopping without realizing that Pointer, who had become fluent in Japanese, understood everything they were saying. While he chuckled thinking back on the story, he explained how that the same cultural taboo that believed a man shouldn’t be shopping was a small part of a much broader norm that believed women to be subservient to men. He shared how he and Leona would constantly draw disapproving looks, derogatory comments and unimaginable gestures as she walked side by side with him. As he shared this story, he reflected about how important Title IX has been for women.

“My sister Ruth was a great athlete,” he said, “and at 6-foot-2 if Title IX had been in place at the time, there’s no doubt in my mind that she could have gone to any school she wanted to on an athletic scholarship.”

He’s extremely proud of Ruth and his sisters Anita, Bonnie and June who formed The Pointer Sisters and earned 3 Grammy Awards and 10 nominations.

As he spoke of them and Ruth’s athletic ability it was impossible not to realize the depth of talent his family was gifted with.  Naturally, we had to ask. With all that musical talent in the family did have a gift for music too?

“No,” he laughed. “When we were kids we all sang in the church choir, but that was the extent of my musical career.”

When his passion for sports and providing opportunities for kids drew him initially to the Park Board 19 years ago, Pointer had no idea how influential his service on the board would be in broadening his understanding of environmental and social issues.

“Being on the board really elevated my awareness of global warming,” he said. “As a grandparent you can’t help but think we have to do better for our grandkids.”

Like others on the Park Board, he’s walking the talk.

“Commissioner Erik Hanberg and I talked a lot about his electric car, but at the time I had concerns about the availability of charging stations and length of a charge,” he said. “So we bought a hybrid initially. But in June we bought a Chevy Bolt. It can go 260 miles on a charge, but because of how the system works it’s recharging itself in certain driving situations. We can go up to Seattle and only expend 10 miles getting there.”

He proudly rattled off a list of the concerted efforts the District has made to lessen its impact on the environment during the past two decades while he’s been on the board. Creating Pesticide-Free neighborhood parks. Investing in ultraviolet treatment for recirculation of water in spray parks. Increasing the sustainability of landscaping and improving wildlife habitat through use of native plants. Adding solar panels to help meet heating needs at Kandle and Stewart Heights pools. Developing STAR Center to Lead Gold standards.

Yes, it’s safe to say that while Aaron Pointer may have questioned why he would have been selected for the NAACP’s Harold G. Moss Decades Award, presented to him during the Tacoma branch’s 24th annual awards banquet in August, the rest of us understand how this genuine and deserving individual stood out as a winner.

Posted In: Park Board, People